SEEING America's Statue of Liberty for the first time -- Miss Liberty standing erect and firm, torch held high at the entrance to New York Harbor -- has inspired millions of people over the years. Many of those inspired have been tourists.
But millions of others have found special meaning in the statue, the gift of the people of France, because they have been immigrants to the United States. For them, Miss Liberty has stood as a beacon of the very promise of America -- and its open welcome to the oppressed and dispossessed of other nations.
The restoration work now under way on the Statue of Liberty comes at a timely moment. In an engineering sense, of course, the statue is in need of refurbishing. But we are referring to something else.
The renewal work comes at an important political junction for the United States -- against a backdrop of renewed legislative effort in Washington to enact a new immigration-control bill that would seek to restrict illegal immigration.
Such a measure has been long overdue; public disquiet about illegal immigration creates an unfair backlash against desirable and necessary legal immigration.
The restoration work also comes against a backdrop of rising assaults and abuses directed against immigrants in general, and particularly Asians, such as Cambodians and South Vietnamese, who have fled to the United States in search of sanctuary and freedom.
At a time when Miss Liberty is being refurbished, it seems important for individual Americans to renew and strengthen their own commitment to the meaning of the United States -- what the American experience means in terms of immigration.
From its very inception the US has been a nation based on the assimilation of newcomers. At first they came primarily from the British Isles. Later, Northern Europe. Southern Europe. Then Latin America and Asia. And, of course, blacks came, in large part involuntarily, throughout the formative years of the new republic.